Even before lockdown’s legacy, our town and its centre faces challenges. Among these are large developments that will shape the future of our town, either for good or bad. But do we know what they might look like? What mass, height and cladding choices are there, for example? How might residents better see what is going on?
The list of developments includes very large schemes: Solum at the station, North Street, Bedford Square, The Casino, Guildford Park Road, Bright Hill, Cathedral housing, Weyside Urban Village (previously known as Slyfield Regeneration), Bright Hill, large housing schemes along Walnut Tree Close with the Debenhams site surely to follow. And then there’s the major housing schemes at Blackwell Farm, Gosden Hill Farm and Garlick’s Arch, not forgetting Wisley Airfield.
How might residents get a better view of potential developments? When a formal planning application emerges, it is often hard for the untutored to visualize the scheme in its context.
However, in these digital days, it possible to have a reasonably lifelike 3D model of our town. Such modelling has been possible for some time. Our council has yet to embrace it. The latest excuse is, of course, the depredations to the council budget, courtesy of Covid-19.
GVG, helped by architects on our Working Group, has been quietly promoting the use of digital modelling to the council over the past year. GVG had itself concluded that one particular firm of modellers was worth consideration. GVG approached the council at high level and approval was given to set up a demonstration. A planning officer attended the demonstration in London. Sadly, shortly afterwards, the officer was let go.
But at one stage we did understand that the council would move ahead. Then all went quiet for a few more months.
In our latest attempt, the council reply (from an officer) included the following: ‘GBC Planning Team, whilst appreciating the benefits of such a system, expect parties who make planning applications to provide views along with the application and these are made in the format of a CGI or a similar format to what [modelling company] offers.’
The modelling company through which GVG organised the demo acts for 25 out of the 32 London boroughs, including the City of London. The company also acts for Woking, Belfast, Cambridge and Salford councils, plus TfL and Historic England to name but a few.
One of the most potent features of the demonstration was the ability to see a development in its almost real-time setting, viewable from any direction and height. You could even see its shadow cast, by the hour and season, and its impact on the skyline and adjoining roofscapes. All this using commonplace architectural software packages that allow cutting and pasting into the current built environment. Crucially, the modelling software then allows ‘what if’s’. It also allows quick and easy insertion of alternative scheme options, including façade treatment. This is all by instant keystroke and mouse manipulation.
Think how such software could help the Planning Committee in its deliberations.
Basic manipulation of the 3D model is possible by the untrained. Thus the town model could be displayed on a screen in the Millmead foyer where visitors could see how a large development might look from a variety of viewpoints and heights. We did just that in the modellers’ foyer where there’s a comprehensive model of London.
The cost? From around £50,000 to set up (it starts with an aerial survey of £5-8k) and £1,000 per month to run. Cheap at the price, I’d say, Covid notwithstanding. Especially when all the developments above are mega-millions.
So what should we at GVG do now? Press on or give up? What’s best for our town?